Prominent human rights activist and Muslim author Qasim Rashid who has researched the global Islamophobic propaganda tells FNA that “tens of millions of dollars” are being poured into the “anti-Islamic and anti-Muslim industry.”
Qasim Rashid is a writer and attorney, working with the “Ahmadiyya Muslim Community” as a spokesman. He has written several books, criticizing the growth of anti-Islamic hype in the media and the racist rhetoric of people like the Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders against the Muslims. Rashid is the author of the books “#TalkToMe: The Five Conversation We Need to Have but Aren’t” and “EXTREMIST: A Response to Geert Wilders & Terrorists Everywhere.” He regularly publishes on Time, The Huffington Post, Washington Post, The USA Today and CNN. He is the former Chairman of the Muslim Writers Guild of America.
Q: Your new book “#TalkToMe: The Five Conversation We Need to Have but Aren’t” discusses the impacts of dialog and cultural exchange on fighting xenophobia, Islamophobia and religious hatred. Do you think those who belittle Islam and brand the entire world’s Muslim population as fundamentalists would be willing to change their mind and are open to a robust dialog with the Muslim thinkers?
A: I believe dialogue is the key to helping build those bridges of understanding over the chasms of ignorance and fear currently keeping us apart. I have experienced personally how those who before used to vilify Islam changed their tune once they afforded themselves the opportunity to talk to Muslims and learn about Islam firsthand. Not everyone has the courage or compassion to talk to Muslims before forming an opinion about them. But those who do often recognize the truth that despite our differences, we have much in common and much we can work together on in service of humanity.
Q: Geert Wilders and Pastor Terry Jones are only two of many public figures in the West who have launched fierce attacks on the Muslims, burnt their holy book and defamed them in the movies, cartoons, books and newspaper stories. It’s mentioned on the back cover of your book that you empower your readers with a tool which the extremist don’t have, i.e. the “knowledge of Islam.” Do these people who regularly attack the Muslims and call them “seditious” have a realistic understanding of Islam?
A: No. In fact the understanding of Islam that Islamophobes like Wilders and Jones espouse is not only remedial, but oftentimes fabricated and concocted. For example, in my previous book, “EXTREMIST: A Response to Geert Wilders & Terrorists Everywhere,” I cite numerous examples of how Wilders, like terrorists, fabricates claims, attributes them to Islam, and hopes his reader will simply assume it is true, when in reality zero evidence substantiates the anti-Islam claim he makes. On the contrary, numerous non-Muslim academics like Dr. Philip Jenkins, Karen Armstrong, Dr. Robert George, among many others, recognize that the Islam that terrorist groups present is wholly divorced from the true Islam that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) established and practiced. It is no coincidence that academic scholars who regularly publish peer reviewed work on Islam and religion recognize Islam is a peaceful faith, while ignorant Islamophobes and terrorists—both of whom have zero academic credentials—continue to push anti-Islam myths. Ignorance is not bliss, and in this case it is deadly as it leads to a wholly unrealistic view of Islam.
Q: It’s interesting to me that Muslims have always been on the receiving end of xenophobic and racist attacks, and you can rarely find Muslims assaulting the Christians because of their religion, vandalizing churches or producing movies to denigrate the people of other faiths. Is there any special reason behind that? Is there something in the Islamic ideology that prevents the Muslims from offending the followers of other religions?
A: To be fair, there are certainly examples of some Muslims behaving violently towards Christians. For example, in my first book The Wrong Kind of Muslim, I relate the ongoing persecution Christians in Pakistan face. But to your second point, yes, Islamic theology specifically commands Muslims to protect churches from attack. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) wrote dozens of covenants and charters with the Christians of his time, guaranteeing them complete religious freedom. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) commanded Muslims to fight on behalf of Christians and ensure that no one harms them. Thus, Muslims who attack Christians today act in contravention to Islam and Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)’s teaching. True Islam champions universal freedom of conscience for all people of all faiths and for all people of no faith.
Q: The media organizations which feature sacrilegious movies, cartoons and writings against the Muslims usually defend their practice by saying that “freedom of speech” allows them to disseminate such materials. Is the demonization of Muslims in the mass media and depicting them as dangerous, uncultured people really consistent with the essence of freedom of speech?
A: America’s free speech model permits such insults. In response to such insults, the Quran commands Muslims to simply “turn away from the ignorant and say peace.” History records numerous incidents in which Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was insulted to his face. Not only did he refuse to respond in kind, but he also forbade anyone from harming or censoring those who insulted him. Islam goes beyond the basic free speech model and admonishes Muslims to hold themselves to a higher standard – even specifically forbidding Muslims from insulting others’ faith. The best response to poor ideas are better ideas. Muslims should follow the true Islamic example of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and ignore such insults. In #TalkToMe, I discuss how we need to consciously choose to elevate our morality in speech as Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) taught. By peacefully elevating their own level of morality, Muslims will have immensely positive effects on those who insult Islam. That is how Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) won hearts and that is the solution and only acceptable response to insults against Islam and Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) today.
Q: The noted American scholar Nathan Lean argues that Islamophobia is an industry, which is lucrative for so many people, especially the far-right politicians who promote anti-Islamic rhetoric in the public. Is it really the case that there are interest groups and politicians that benefit from propagating anti-Islamic sentiments and depicting Muslims as a threat to the global peace?
A: Yes. There’s ample research demonstrating the tens of millions of dollars poured into the anti-Islam and anti-Muslim industry. Fear sells newspapers and motivates war and fighting. As I discuss in #TalkToMe, the anti-Islam campaign of today is no different than the anti-Catholic, anti-Jew, or anti-Mormon campaign of yesteryear. This, too, will pass and those bigots who endorsed or supported this campaign will be remembered how Senator McCarthy is remembered today – with disdain and contempt. The solution to this fear-mongering is dialogue, education, and collective service to humanity. That is how we will overcome the fear and hate, and promote a pluralistic, strongly bonded society that rises above xenophobia.
Q: As you noted in one of your interviews, when a Muslim says that his religion endorses universal freedom of conscience, compassion for the needy and benevolence to the orphan children, everybody would start inquiring him for factual support and evidence. However, when a suicidal bomber explodes himself somewhere in Pakistan and Iraq, or like what happened during the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013, everybody would automatically point the finger of accusation at the Muslims, saying that, yes, they were Islamic “fundamentalists” who committed the crime. What could be the possible reasons for that adamancy and this credulity?
A: I discuss in detail in #TalkToMe that this double standard exists due to a lack of justice and honesty in how we deal with each other. And it has permeated beyond the common person. For example, just recently a white man, who claims he is Christian, was arrested by the FBI for plotting a mass murder on American Muslims. It was clear that he intended to inflict immense death and carnage. Fortunately, he was captured in time. The judge presiding over his case decided to release him because he wasn’t convinced the man was a “true threat” to society.
Meanwhile there have been numerous cases where young Muslim teens have been merely accused of similar acts and sent to prison for decades on conspiracy to commit terrorism charges. This double standard permeates to the rest of society and is a reflection of unjust and dishonest policy.
I firmly believe the majority of Americans reject this approach. I encourage them to continue to raise their voices for justice and honesty. I encourage them not just because it is the moral and right thing to do, but also because being safe from terrorism is a fundamental human right we all deserve.